Welsh football shifts its focus back to the Corbett Sports Welsh Premier League this weekend, after the Welsh Cup third round; Bangor City and TNS continue to set the pace.
TNS’ dramatic top-of-the-table victory over Bangor in the 16th round of the WPL may have slipped by in the anticipation of the Welsh Cup, but just how significant a physiological boost will their victory on away soil be? Having edged past their title challengers to go joint-top of the table, TNS are 8/13 to pick up a further three points in the weekend’s televised game (live on S4C and online via Sgorio) at Port Talbot Town (7/2), although the Steelmens’ GenQuip stadium has not proved to be a happy hunting ground for the Saints in recent years, with just two wins from their last ten outings. Port Talbot, under new manager Scott Young, are battling their own demons as their wildly inconsistent performances continue to undermine their campaign. Dependent on what Town side show up on Saturday, Young’s side could be worth backing for a hard-fought draw (3/1).
Bangor City (4/11) dusted themselves down from the TNS defeat by sweeping past Aberdare Town in the Welsh Cup, 4-1. This weekend sees Carmarthen Town (11/2) the visitors to the Book People stadium, with the Old Gold one of league’s most feared sides of late. With their hapless start to the season fast becoming a distant memory, Manager of the Month Mark Aizlewood’s outfit will travel north in confidence, buoyed by the goalscoring form of Liam Thomas – who’s enjoying something of a breakout season with ten league goals to his name so far – and the return to fitness of powerful striker Craig Hughes. Bangor rate sharp-shooter and league top-scorer Chris Simm as ‘doubtful’ with a virus but have an otherwise fully-fit squad. Expect Carmarthen to push the Citizens all the way but home advantage should edge it – just.
A point behind the league’s top-two, Prestatyn Town (10/11) play their third consecutive game away from home after two difficult visits to Port Talbot and Afan Lido in the league and cup respectively. Despite playing almost the entire 90-minutes with a numerical advantage against Port, Prestatyn sorely missed suspended player/manager Neil Gibson and were handed just their third defeat of the season. A repeat journey followed a week later with the Seasiders grinding out a 4-3 cup win at Afan Lido but they find themselves in the familiar position of needing to win to keep the pace on the top-two. Having won seven and lost nine, Connah’s Quay (12/5) are as unpredictable as they come, yet in November’s Player of the Month, 18-year-old Rhys Healy, the Nomad’s have a genuine match winner and should not be ruled out of a top-six finish. Having overcome Llanelli in the Welsh Cup with a side weakened by injury last weekend, skipper Craig Jones returns to boost Mark McGregor’s side. I fear Connah’s Quay will have too many young faces in their side to dig out a result against a Prestatyn side now seasoned in grinding out victories under expectation.
After a two-game hiccup against Bangor and Carmarthen, Airbus UK (4/5) returned to form with three-straight victories over Port Talbot (twice) and Newtown and lie just three points off the league summit ahead of their visit to Aberystwyth (5/2). The Wingmakers have doubts over Ian Kearney, in-form striker Steve Abbott and Richie Partridge whilst Toby Jones is definitely ruled out, but they should be able to out-gun Aberystwyth who are smarting from a 5-2 cup exit to second-tier Rhyl. Cledan Davies and Glyndwr Hughes are both absent for the Green and Blacks although midfield general Michael Walsh is fit again to make his first league start in three months. Keeping goals out has been Aber’s weakness all season and Airbus are well equipped to exploit this and notch an away win.
Afan Lido (5/2) turned over Connah’s Quay in their last league outing to snap a ten-match losing streak, whilst incredibly, maintain their record as the WPL’s only team to have scored in every game. Normal services resumed last weekend after they were narrowly beaten by Prestatyn in the Welsh Cup but they will have belief in their ability to overcome eleventh-placed Newtown (4/5) at Latham Park. In recent weeks Newtown boss Bernard McNally has turned to central defender-cum-striker Andy Jones to lift the Robins out of the drop zone and record their first win in six. With just one win under their belts at home this season, I don’t foresee a turnaround in Newtown’s fortunes until the January transfer window and at 13/5 I favour the draw, with Afan Lido always likely to both score and leak goals.
Bala Town (8/11) host Llanelli (3/1) in the weekend’s remaining fixture and neither side will be overly pleased with the first-half of their respective seasons so far. Whilst Bala will enviously look on at Airbus’ emergence as a top-four side, Llanelli’s season has been torn apart by off-field chaos, with the very future of the club under grave doubt. One defeat in seven saw Bala force their way into fifth spot before avoiding a potential banana skin in their 3-2 cup win at Monmouth Town. Another win at Maes Tegid will take them a step closer to the Championship Conference in the New Year, with only right-back John Irving out. Colin Caton’s opposite Bob Jeffery’s is yet to win since his appointment and a goalless draw at Aberystwyth last time out in the WPL all but ended the Reds’ top-six aspirations. Jeffery’s faces an unenviable task inheriting a want-away squad drained of morale. I fully expected the Lakesiders to add to Llanelli’s woes.
Connah’s Quay 12/5 Draw 13/5 Prestatyn 10/11
Aberystwyth 5/2 Draw 11/4 Airbus 4/5
Bala Town 8/11 Draw 11/4 Llanelli 3/1
Bangor 4/11 Draw 4/1 Carmarthen 11/2
Newtown 4/5 Draw 13/5 Afan Lido 5/2
Port Talbot 7/2 Draw 3/1 TNS 8/13
Latest title odds: TNS 8/11; Bangor City 13/8; Airbus 10/1; Prestatyn 10/1